An evening at Tezpur Stn.
by Mohan Bhuyan
While I was on holiday in Tezpur, Assam, I thought I should see how the MG lines in the area were faring. This particular MG section (started 1911, extended 1932) begins at Rangiya Jn and goes on to Rangapara North Jn from where one line built in the 60's heads further east to Murkong Selek and another line turns southwards to terminate at Tezpur. The latter is actually the oldest on the North Bank, descending from the Tezpur Balipara Light Railway built in 1885 to carry tea from upcountry estates to the then riverport of Tezpur. Sometime in the late 1980's a new line was constructed from Balipara on the Rangapara-Murkong Selek section to Bhalukpong just inside the Arunachal Pradesh border and on the famous road to Bomdila and Tawang down which the Chinese came marching in 1962, causing Tezpur town to be evacuated in panic.
In the early 80's when I was still only a boy, I had persuaded my father to allow me one trip on the line from Tangla ( nearest station to the tea garden we were on at that time) to Tezpur. It was a memorable journey that took all day and it turned out to be my last journey behind steam. Then again in the late 80's, when my father was at a garden within sight of the Balipara station, I took a trip through tropical jungle on the new line to Bhalukpong. This was another memorable jaunt, not the least because it was the first and only time I engaged in roof top travel!
This June, initial indications were worrying...accompanying my father to the army golf course on my first morning home, I saw tell tale signs of neglect & disuse in the section of track paralleling NH 52. The line was "green' and the rails crooked. The familiar outer signal for Dekargaon station was missing and as we turned the corner I saw that Dekargaon was totally signal-less. Bad omens, so I put off my visit to Tezpur Station for a couple of days.
Then one evening I took the plunge and went there. Actually Tezpur station has a very pretty setting - right on the banks of the 3 km wide Brahmaputra and in the lee of a boulder strewn hill. Straightaway I saw some heartening signs - a goods rake was being unloaded, a computerised reservation office was in operation and so was a digital clock over the entrance to the platform! No trains were in at the time, so I decided to see if I could have a chat with the station master.
The station master was in the middle of a long harangue with a couple over the unauthorised use of a railway house, so it was a good 10 minutes before I could get a word in. I marched into his office and introduced myself as a member of the famous IRFCA and wondered if he could spare a few moments of his precious time to answer my questions. He turned out to be most willing though surprised that someone like me even existed in Tezpur.
He said that though the condition of the line had deteriorated over the last few years, operations were carrying on. There were three passenger trains a day including the 5715/6 Tezpur Samastipur Express. He proceeded to write the trains and their timings on a piece of paper for me and I saw that 5715 was an express only in name & number . Basically the first train in the morning - the 767 Up from Rangapara leaves Tezpur as the 5715 Dn for Samastipur, an 1100 km journey that takes 40 hours! Similarly the arriving 5716 up leaves as the last passenger for Rangapara, the 768 Dn. Another passenger the 765/66 comes from Rangapara at 10.30 am, an odd time for either office goers or students, I thought.
The station master said that in addition to the passengers, he received 4-5 goods trains per week bearing foodgrains, salt, fertilisers and cement. There are some FCI godowns at Bindukuri midway to Rangapara so I guess not all goods trains came as far as Tezpur.
I asked him about the missing signals at Dekargaon and he said that the station there had been closed as also the one at Thakurbari. Both pieces of news made me sad...Dekargaon is our ancestral village and the tiny Thakurbari station was one of the prettiest in Assam. It was in a shallow valley with tea gardens on the bluffs on either side. The Thakurbari Planters Club was on the western bluff and I remember breaking off from tennis for a few moments, whenever the evening train would pull into the station below. I don't think anyone ever got on or off, which is probably why the station was eventually closed. Thus, Bindukuri with its FCI godowns is the only operational station left on the line. "In any case, we don't really need signals any more," said the station master pointing at the disused Neale's Ball Token machine next to his table, "only one train is allowed in the section between here and Rangapara".
I then asked him about the speeds the trains managed on the section and he guffawed. Gesturing outside he said, "You've seen the tracks, barely 15 kmph." He said that the distance to Rangapara was just about 27 kms and took almost one and a half hours. I then asked him about the "main line" of the North Bank, the one from Rangiya Jn to Murkongselek and he said even here, there were many speed restrictions. Deciding I had heard enough, I thanked him for his time and he said he wished he could have given me happier news, "but they don't give a damn about branch lines any more".